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#BTColumn – Cults and sense of belonging

by Barbados Today Traffic
11 min read

The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by Wayne Campbell

“Cults can hide in many places. They are so adept at blending into society and masking their true colours that often their victims do not realise that they were even in a cult until they have escaped it. Nor do they fully comprehend the severity of the brainwashing that they were subjected to, until they are finally free of it.”– Natacha Tormey

To what extent does Jamaica’s education system facilitate our acceptance of cult-like behaviours? We all have been primed to become members of a cult. We live in a society where independent thoughts are not valued. We are socialised not to ask questions.

We are told from infancy that children are to be seen but ought not to be heard. This mindset grows with us into adulthood. Jamaica, like most other countries, utilises a standardised curriculum which facilitates a culture of submissiveness.

The legacies of a post-slavery society reverberate in all aspects of our culture. Do you recall the Jonestown massacre in Guyana?  Undeniably, absent from the society is a culture of problem solving and reasoning. Those who continue to question how comes Jamaicans are so gullible to fall into the trap of cult-like organisations obviously have not taken the time to examine how our institutions operate.

To a great extent all our institutions operate with a cult-like personality and persona. Too many of us still have our heads under a rock. In many schools, principals behave like cult leaders.

These principals control the minds and actions of many staff members. There are teachers who will do any unethical act that is asked of them in order to appease or to be in the principal’s good book. Those teachers who are not in the clique are oftentimes discriminated against; this principle is well established in our education system and occurs more often than you think.

Many principals operate like demigods; they reward those teachers who are at their beck and call. There are those who will argue that our education system is weak in accountability framework, hence many of these unprofessional behaviours go unchecked. The need to feel a sense of belonging is strong in human beings. No one wants to feel left out or to be the odd person. It takes a courageous individual to retain his or her voice and opinion in the midst of a pervasive cult –like culture. The Jamaica society is known for its numerous dons many of whom operate without impunity. The dons who operate in many communities across Jamaica also behave in a cult-like manner. No one dares question the don or else.

The don is able to get anything or anyone in the community. The don makes the rules and provides the edict by which his subjects must live.  Political parties operate along the lines of cultish behaviour. The alpha male or leader of the party demands total devotion and loyalty from his followers. Any signs of challenge regarding his right to rule are nipped in the bud. The position of the leader is well established; succession planning is rarely ever discussed. Most cult leaders are males.          

Human sacrifices have no place in Christianity. The only ark mentioned in the Bible is Noah’s ark. Perhaps we have forgotten St. John 14:6; Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. There are no other pathways to salvation.

There has been outrage from all spheres of the society regarding the triple killing recently at the Kevin Smith – led Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries (PIKRM) in Paradise, St James, Jamaica.

According to a local newspaper, the police stormed the Norwood Avenue facility with 144 congregants, including children, in attendance, preparing, as they were told, for an ark (His Excellency Kevin Smith’s Ark).  The congregants were instructed to wear white garments, take along a white sheet; wrap their cellular phone in aluminum foil and leave them at home.

The newspaper added that when the police stormed the facility, they found a number of people who had been injured by other members of the church. A local newspaper reported that there were about 14 children and 31 women. Photos carried by a local newspaper showed men bound with cord, some naked and others with their torso skimpily covered with a piece of cloth. Food could also be seen strewn to the ground.

Goats, cows and rabbits were all part of the bizarre ritual.  In the midst of the ritual was a policewoman attached to a station in Kingston.  Teachers, tax collectors, soldiers and sales agents also numbered among hundreds of believers following the man trained in psychology. Smith, reportedly from Glengoffe in St Catherine, lived in Canada for 10 years before returning to Jamaica with a doctorate in psychology.

Unfortunately, many of our churches have cult-like figures at the helm. These self- appointed bishops oftentimes have more titles than God himself.  Among the titles Kevin Smith had were Senior Prophet, Crown Bishop, His Eminence and His Excellency.  There is a sub-culture in the society where the pastor is always right and no one defies him. This top-down approach is used to further subjugate followers not only in churches but in many organizations.

The shift from the teachings of God to the teachings of the cult leader is a red flag.  Regrettably, religion is reduced to a mere performance or an event by these cult leaders. It is a huge production through which the earthly possession of their congregants changes hands; persuasive means and fear are the usual vices. However, God is not mocked. We reap what we have sowed.  Eventually a child of God will learn how to discern who is under the anointing of the Holy Spirit or who is role-playing. Be not deceived brethrens!  News emerged that congregants at the Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries had to pay $100,000 to enter the bishop’s ark. A family of four would be required to pay $400,000.

Is this Scriptural? No, it is not. It was also reported that some members took out loans and made attempts to change their beneficiaries and name the pastor as their new beneficiary in their life insurance policies. It is not unusual to hear of congregants signing over their property and all their worldly possessions to their pastors. Red flag!

We need to invest time in studying the Bible in order to know God for ourselves or else we stand the chance of being taken advantage of in religious circles. Undoubtedly, the children
who attended the PIKRM will require long
term psychosocial support in order to re-train their minds so they will be able to function normally.

Discerning Spirits

The church is supposed to be a place of refuge and a spiritual reservoir. On the other hand, in some instances the church operates like a business; a family business. What will it take for us to wake up?  We all know of at least one pastor who behaves in a cult- like manner. In many churches emphasis is placed on the bishop at the expense of the teachings of God.

The bishop’s birthday, the birthday of the bishop’s wife and their wedding anniversary are commemorated with special offerings and festivity. In those churches the bishops are treated like god-like figures. Why does it appear that the spirit of discernment has taken a hiatus?  While discernment is a Biblical doctrine we all should pray for the gift of discernment which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 John 4:1-3, it says, “beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit
of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

Common Sense and Sensibility

God has also given us common sense; use it. One does not have to be able to read to utilize his or her common sense. Outside of the gift of discerning spirits there are usually red flags which we can use as indicators to realize something is off.  Cult-like figures are controlling, polarizing and manipulative. Cult leaders view themselves as all knowing and as such they do not answer to anyone.

Cult leaders are more often than not narcissistic. These cults-like figures usually separate members from their families and friends; this is a classic manipulation strategy. Cult leaders rely heavily on indoctrination and brainwashing techniques in order to control their followers. It is well documented that these cult-like figures are more often than not sexual deviants.

According to the National Library of Medicine deviant sexual behaviour is, in current classifications, known as paraphilia. This clinical entity corresponds to any sexual behaviour considered “abnormal” compared with sexual acts in the society where the person lives.

Sadly, the world experienced what happened to an unchecked cult leader such as Hitler who ruled Germany during World War 2 and the human atrocities and experiments he approved of resulting in the deaths of approximately six million Jews.

These cult leaders have an unquenchable desire for power and wealth. The emphasis is usually on the personality of the leader and not on the teachings from the Bible. Once these religious leaders begin to monetize their services this is a red flag; they are no longer working under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

These cult-like figures prey on the vulnerable and those who are poor in spirit. News emerged that a member of the church who was hospitalised with renal failure discharged himself from the Cornwall Regional Hospital and turn up at the church only to be sacrificed. One has to question whether in a pandemic such as the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a rise in cultish behaviours?

Many individuals are overwhelmed by the stress associated with the ongoing pandemic and their mental health has become challenged.  Disturbingly, there is lack of accountability in the church in particular as it relates to finances and this is problematic.

Churches in Jamaica do not pay taxes and this can lead to misappropriation of funds. Many congregants will give their last dollar in offering and correspondingly many of these false prophets have no qualms in accepting same. It is arguable, that many pastors have vast amount of unexplained wealth which the church knows nothing about.

Many spiritual shepherds continue to deceive their flocks. Why it is that members of a congregation should not receive an income and expenditure statement in order to have some idea of how the vast resources of the church are being spent?

The time has come for us to revisit the primary agents of socialisation; the family and the education system in order to identify the areas in need of remedial work.  There needs to be a culture of accountability and sensibility. With our fundamental religious freedoms there comes a greater sense of responsibility. If ever you feel uncomfortable in any organisation or a situation it is best you leave; your life could depend on it.            

In the words of Jerome Flynn, I don’t think it takes much for a cult to be a cult. Many parts of our society are cultish, and you only need a charismatic leader and some teachings, and before you know it, you have a cult.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. waykam@yahoo.com @WayneCamo © Follow my blog at www.waykam.wordpress.com

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